Reviews

Find reviews of literary magazines, stories, poems, essays, and books from independent publishers and university presses on the NewPages Blog.

Book Review :: Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz

Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz published by Essay Press book cover image

Guest Post by Catherine Hayes

Where Was I Again, Olivia Muenz’s debut nonfiction chapbook from Essay Press, presents readers a glimpse into the mind of a neurodivergent reader and uses the power of language to emphasize how “we are in this together” by inviting all types of readers into her mindset and personal struggles. Muenz’s work reads like one is living inside the fragmented and constantly shifting mindset of a human. Her writing style consistently shifts between fragments, short paragraphs, and pages dedicated to a single sentence. Drifting like a “dusty balloon” she captures the truth of processing life as small moments that continue to live with us. “I am a big memory box,” Muenz proclaims, a statement that all readers can relate to yet one that distinctly reflects the author’s neurodivergent experience, the truth of her personal journey. She manages to reach her audience without compromising her own narrative. Muenz is not looking for her reader to sympathize with her or pity her, and she makes it clear that if her readers do not enjoy her narrative or don’t agree with what she says, they don’t have to stay. “I’m giving you an out,” she writes. “Well if you don’t want to take it. That’s not on me.” Her unapologetic attitude and conviction in her narrative are an admirable display of strength, especially in the face of talking about being in such a vulnerable state. Muenz expertly shows the ability of language to articulate the difficulties of reconciling body and mind, and the power of the written word to unite people in an understanding of the basic habits that all humans experience, no matter their background.


Where Was I Again by Olivia Muenz. Essay Press, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: Catherine Hayes is a graduate student in English at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and resides in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in Blood & Thunder: Musings of the Art of Medicine, Atticus Review, NewPages, and an anthology with Wising up Press. She can be found on Twitter @Catheri91642131

Book Review :: Our Lively Kingdom

Our Lively Kingdom poetry by Julia Lisella book cover image

Guest Post by Chloe Yelena Miller

Julia Lisella’s title poem, “Our Lively Kingdom,” opens with the lines, “Our lively kingdom’s now broken / into village plots that others love to visit.” Themes of brokenness, healing, and finding joy weave through these poems like a river through a private landscape. My nine-year-old noticed the cover looks like a map with “tracks like a secret language.”

The covering painting, “Stories Untold,” by Sharon Santillo, sets the tone for the reader. Lisella illustrates a life of attention with lines like “All life is like that / a pursuit to satiate hunger” from “Thoughts About Hunger on a Morning Walk,” and “Is that the way of my work these days, conjuring you into existence . . . ” from “In At Home Depot 15 Years After Your Death.” Indeed, these poems resurrect and remember.

The poem "Hot Flash" has my heart (hormones?) forever. Previously, so little has been written wisely about perimenopause and menopause. Lisella writes, “is my body just grieving” and “The body’s history feels different than mine / as does the earth’s, and yet in unions / we keep telling this short story without words / with spasm and fit     like lyric     like labor."

The poems in Our Lively Kingdom give glimpses of time from the narrator’s childhood through to the pandemic, from private and familial places to nature and to her classroom. In “I’m Receiving Now,” Lisella ends the book with the line, “I’m receiving all the grief here it is here it is.” This ars poetica offers instructions on life and the poetic craft.


Our Lively Kingdom by Julia Lisella. Bordighera Press, October 2022.

Reviewer bio: Chloe Yelena Miller lives in Washington, D.C., with her family. She is the author of Viable (Lily Poetry Review Books, 2021) and Unrest (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Chloe teaches writing at American University and University of Maryland Global Campus, as well as privately. Find her at chloeyelenamiller.com and @ChloeYMiller.

Review :: “Café Loup” by Ben Lerner

The New Yorker August 8 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Sade Frame

“I started to narrate my choking to myself, as if transforming it into a story would keep me connected to a future in which I might tell it.”

Ben Lerner’s New Yorker short story, “Café Loup,” describes, in an almost comedic manner, the narrator’s fear of dying, his skepticism regarding the circumstances surrounding death, (how his family would react if he passed, the manner in which it happened, et cetera), life regrets, and the concept of mentally postponing his own demise. The piece opens, “When I became a father, I began to worry not only that I would die and not be able to care for my daughter but that I would die in an embarrassing way. . . ” In the story, the narrator chokes on a piece of steak at a restaurant, and in the first few moments, he looks back on his life. Readers get glimpses of his past, his values, his inner turmoil, and his regrets through Lerner’s use of exemplary imagery with each of his rambling – though always connected – thought loops. One of the more important elements highlighted in this piece was his relationship with his daughter, and how he felt that he deserved to die in the cafe because he wasn’t adequate enough or somehow deserved it. It truly highlights that we cannot afford to take any moment for granted, for we do not choose our time.


Café Loup” by Ben Lerner. The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2002.

Reviewer bio: Sade Frame is a Hawaii resident who is an aspiring recording artist and avid book reader.

Review :: “In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want” by Sydney Vogl

Booth literary magazine issue 17 2022 cover image

Guest Post by Sophia Kaawa-Aweau

Dreams of relationships past and romances dead are a bittersweet experience; a haunting reminder of what almost was and a bubble of joy amidst otherwise bleak times. In Sydney Vogl’s “In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want,” the willful delusions of our dreamer manifest in the form of a lost lover.

Vogl delivers a hauntingly charming image of a willfully ignorant romance, which sneaks by the problems present in their bond rather than addressing them. “i don’t want to / talk too loud. i’m worried one of us will wake up. / we walk by a field of tulips & i almost notice / each one is shaped like an open wound, but i don’t.” They happily ignore the disturbances of their flower field, choosing to not address things in fear of waking the other up to the problems present.

It’s a gripping narrative that almost inspires a yearning to experience love and loss so strongly it haunts my dreams. “i wake up / alone. it’s february.” is a line piercing in its finality but perfectly embodies the loneliness and sense of grief that causes her dreamscape to feel like a graveyard.


In January, My Body Becomes a Graveyard of Want” by Sydney Vogl. Booth, 8 July 2022.

Reviewer bio: Sophia Kaawa-Aweau is a college student, looking to improve her understanding and writing of poetry and literature.

Review :: “Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez

Borracho [Very Drunk] Love Poems & Other Acts of Madness by Jesus Papoleto Melendez book cover image

Guest Post by Jennifer Grotzinger

“Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez comes from his poetry collection, Borracho [Very Drunk]: Love Poems & Other Acts of Madness, first published in 2020 by 2Life Press and now available to read on the Poetry Foundation website. If you are a sucker for love poems, “Leaving” will take you down a path to feel the hurt and the emotions from the point of view of the significant other. It starts, “The storm came.” Meaning a fight just happened or an argument just occurred. The speaker goes into how they saw it coming, the tension was building, “We had already felt / the tremor / of its warning. . . ” It was there, and at any time, it was going to explode, it was just a matter of when. When it did explode, the partner realized that no fight is worth losing someone you love and care about. However, the end is what made me sympathize with the speaker: “But you walked out, / To meet the wind / & the rain / intotheStorm / without me.” It makes my heart break a little to feel the hurt when the speaker realizes that they just lost someone they truly love and care about. That they are never coming back. This poem is short, yet it speaks so loudly.


Leaving” by Jesús Papoleto Meléndezcomes. Poetry Foundation, reprinted by permission of 2LeafPress, 2020.

Reviewer bio: Jennifer Grotzinger is a student in an intro to poetry class. Her Instagram handle is @jenniferrodd_

Magazine Review :: Red Rover

Red Rover Magazine online literary magazine logo image

Guest Post by Mandy Medina

Although the online Red Rover Magazine is fairly new and has only produced one annual issue in Winter 2021, what they have holds deep messages for those who need them. I was particularly drawn to the poem “valleys to the heart” by Marciel Laquindanum, which speaks of how there are those who have gone through similar situations before:

there i saw in the reflection of the river
people who found their emotions
and cried because they saw them
for the first time . . .

But also, how they were (and now the speaker is) able to find their way through the hardships that filled their short lives:

and at that moment
i knew

those before me needed to cross the valley
to see what was in their heart
so now i walk through this valley
with their flowers in my hand
ready to see what is in mine

Red Rover is a publication focused on mental health but does not limit itself to works of “well-being as a product.” Rather, the editors “are more interested in works that inspired well-being as a process.”

As a resource for those who are dealing with mental issues, magazines like Red Rover show that they are not alone, what they are going through is normal, and there are people out there who have gone through similar situations. Having magazines with a mental health and well-being focus allows people to have creative outlets to share their stories through poetry, photos, and fiction. It gives them a sense that they are not alone and perhaps gives them the strength to move forward in their life so they can also assist someone else who is lost.

Red Rover is currently accepting submissions through October 31, 2022, for its second issue.


Red Rover Magazine was founded by James N. Pollard in March 2020.

Reviewer bio: Mandy Medina is a game enthusiast who uses creative writing and music to make it through the day.

Magazine Review :: Bending Genres Issue 28

Bending Genres online literary magazine logo image

Guest Post by Gabriela Mejia

If you are in the mood to read anything strange and out-of-the-box, Bending Genres is the magazine for you! Issue 28 of Bending Genres has plenty of short genre-mixing (and breaking) pieces of prose, poetry, and everything in between. In “The Grease Ant” by William Musgrove, a man goes about trying to rid his house of grease ants. Only the ants don’t go away, and bit by bit they steal pieces of the man’s life. In “Statue Thinks of Nothing but Murder All Day” by Chelsea Stickle, part short story, part ekphrastic prose, James Pradier’s “Sapho” comes to live in the Musée d’Orsay hell-bent on achieving vengeance. “Kindling” by Keith Powell sees its narrator attempting to live in a house that’s constantly on fire; but the narrator comes to realize that they are steadily being consumed by a “Sisyphean rhythm.” And finally, Lindsey Pharr’s “Circe at the Strip Club” sees its eponymous witch still up to her old tricks in a modern setting.

At times heartbreaking, and heartfelt, Bending Genres’ short works are utterly memorable. For those who wish to find examples of how to mix genres, craft, and form, Bending Genres is the perfect venue to display such experimentations.


Bending Genres, Issue Twenty-Eight. August 2022.

Reviewer Bio: Gabriela Mejia is a Chicago native and an MFA Candidate at Columbia College Chicago.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: Memphis by Tara Stringfellow

Memphis a novel by Tara M. Stringfellow published by The Dial Press book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

In Memphis, Tara Stringfellow’s debut novel, she traces three generations of African American women from the 1930s to the early 2000s. The four main characters—Joan, her mother Miriam, her aunt August, and her grandmother Hazel—all encounter the obstacles one would expect African American women living through those decades to struggle against; however, Stringfellow goes beyond stereotypical concerns to craft fully-realized characters who have hopes and dreams of their own. Hazel wants to live a long, stable life with the man she loves; Miriam wants to create a safe space for her and her children while also carving out a meaningful career. August not only nurtures her nieces, but she tries to save her son from the childhood he had, while Joan wants to create art and beauty. As the title implies, they all pursue their desires in Memphis, which changes over the decades but still provides stability in the midst of chaos for each generation. Though some of the references to historical events seem predictable and almost obligatory, Stringfellow’s fleshing out of her characters enables the reader to enter into their lives and their city, to provide the empathy that all literature strives to evoke.


Memphis by Tara Stringfellow. The Dial Press, April 2022.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: Interior Femme by Stephanie Berger

Interior Femme poetry by Stephanie Berger published by University of Nevada Press book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

Among the first four poems of Stephanie Berger’s Interior Femme, the 2020 Betsy Joiner Flanagan Poetry Prize winner, there’s a “Foreword,” a “Prelude,” and a “Preface,” as if there is an anxiety about beginning or that beginning takes time: “she opened up gradually to the possibility of beauty and a city.” The bicoastal cities of San Diego and New York are among the urban settings for these poems as they trace archetypes of the feminine and the matriarchy of family, society, and art—“a lineage // of pain”—focusing primarily on “two subjects: death / & domesticity” while vying for “survival / of the beautiful.” Survival from whom or what might dominate is a central pursuit of these poems. What has power and influence: memories—“a sadness took / my mother to the movies one day / & never brought her back.” The poems puzzle over the implications of the first woman in our lives and the primal feminine being lost to violence. Memories, based in gender dominance and sexual degradation, are “the mercurial knee-jerk / of the patriarchy.” The poet beseeches: “strip me / from what abyss of memory I dragged.” Ultimately, Berger’s is a poetry of ascent; Persephone emerges and “imagination dominates.” In these poems, imagination has the power to counter and save; even “a pit at the bottom // of the kitchen sink, available / for discovery.” Dear reader, in Interior Femme, Stephanie Berger is “a real woman [and poet] / with the scars to prove it,” who understands it is “important to remember / there are windows in the water.” Dear reader, Interior Femme is a window.


Interior Femme, Stephanie Berger. University of Nevada Press, January 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.

Book Review :: The Fastening by Julie Doxsee

The Fastening, poetry by Julie Doxsee published by Black Ocean book cover image

Guest Post by Jami Macarty

In The Fastening, Julie Doxsee’s fifth collection, the poet makes a poetry of unburdening “that feeling / she always felt”: imperiled. At the center of these poems is a “flesh-twin” of childhood that arises when a new mother’s fears for the safety of her children trigger a visitation of memories of her own lack of safety as a child:

When I am old enough, I’ll know
a mother’s sunset can’t blacken out
the underside of the door, I’ll know
I can’t stay by the river in the park
because there’s no protection
from being a girl.

(“Masterpiece of the Hijacked Girl”)

As well as being a book that plumbs the experiences of a childhood, the implications of being a daughter, and the meaning of motherhood, this is a book about survival—the precarious survival of a woman and an artist: the “rough forms of me.” In these poems, there always seems to be something inserting hooks, applying thumbs; something to get out from under so the “body / can shake this debt” of gender-blame in pursuit of the pleasure orbiting connections between life partners and between mother and sons. The pleasure that fastens a woman to her life and a poet to her “imagination— / the strobing mono-light blurring as it wails near.” With narrative concision, lyric urgency, and emotional coherence, Julie Doxsee speaks from “roadways that artists can’t / fake.”


The Fastening, Julie Doxsee. Black Ocean Press, May 2022.

Reviewer bio: Jami Macarty is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona, and three chapbooks, including Mind of Spring (Vallum, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award. Jami’s writing has been honored by financial support from Arizona Commission on the Arts, British Columbia Arts Council, and by editors at magazines such as The Capilano Review, Concision Poetry Journal, Interim, Redivider, Vallum, and Volt, where Jami’s poems appear. More at https://jamimacarty.com/

If you are interested in contributing a Guest Post to “What I’m Reading,” please click this link: NewPages.com Reviewer Guidelines.